Hundreds of divorce, child support and custody cases dating back to 2012 will have to be revisited – and possibly sent back to trial – as a court administrator sorts out what he called the “random chaos” left behind by former District Family Court Judge Denise Pratt.
The freshman jurist, who abruptly resigned late last month, left nearly 300 court orders stacked on the floor and desk of her 311th District Court, according to Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for Harris County’s nine family courts.
Most of the orders, Farr said, are final agreements needing only a judge’s signature, meaning families are waiting to hear that their cases have been concluded or think they already are.
“Somebody may be out there thinking they’ve been divorced for a couple months; not the case,” said Farr, who is charged with finding judges to staff Pratt’s court until Gov. Rick Perry announces a replacement. Farr said cleaning the administrative mess after Pratt’s sudden departure likely will take months.
Farr said a majority of the orders he found in Pratt’s courtroom, some nearly a year and a half old, are topped with sticky notes – blue, yellow, green, pink – containing hand-written messages from Pratt giving directions, expressing concerns or posing questions about the terms of an agreement to which both parties had signed off.
He said there is no way to determine whether the issues raised on the sticky notes were addressed, or the correct status of the orders without them, meaning lawyers will have to be called in for status hearings, and many families will incur additional legal costs.
“It is random chaos that’s going to have to be dealt with case by case by case,” Farr said. “Every single thing I pick up makes my head hurt, it’s so problematic.”
Austin lawyer Lillian Hardwick, co-author of the “Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics,” said a Texas judge as high ranking as Pratt has not left a “mess of this size” behind in recent memory, citing a statewide list of resignations since 2001. Some judges have been sanctioned in the past for similar administrative failures, she said.
Asked about the stacks of orders, Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said “the staff of the 311th are adamant that the numbers cited are grossly exaggerated.”
“It is kind of pitiful that people continue to beat a dead horse,” Yates wrote in an e-mail.
See here for the background. So basically, either the lawyers and clients and Judge Farr are all lying, or Judge Pratt really is a lousy judge. Seems like an Occam’s Razor situation to me. And remember – she’s still on the ballot, and still could be the Republican nominee.